A lot of people ask me how I write books so quickly. I always say I love writing, and that’s true. I couldn’t spend 20+ hours a week doing something I didn’t like. I guess there is a running joke that writers hate writing, but if that were really true, there would be a lot fewer of us out there. I don’t suffer from writer’s block, in fact, I think I may suffer from the opposite. I have so many ideas for novels in my head that I could write for the next year and a half (at my pace) and not run out of books to write. What is my secret? I’m not sure, but I can pass along some tips that I use to keep myself fresh and ready to write.
Use your time wisely. That means if you have time to write, write, so when you don’t, you’re not beating yourself up about it. I’ve never written every day. My life doesn’t play nice and there are days I simply can’t. Sometimes I’m so busy that by the time I can steal an hour to myself I’m drained and don’t feel like it. I know there are people who say to write anyway, and sometimes I’ll read what I had written during a previous session and that helps boost my spirits enough to get a few words down. Usually, if I don’t feel like writing, I don’t. It doesn’t happen often, as I said before I enjoy writing and not much keeps me from it. But because I used my time wisely in the past, I don’t feel guilty when I can’t write and I’m not forcing myself to get words down because I haven’t written all week. Don’t force yourself to write out of guilt or shame. Write when you feel good and have time, then give yourself a pass when you don’t.
You’re stressed out. There are plenty of writers and authors out there who haven’t been able to write because of the pandemic. They are so worried about themselves and loved ones there is no room for anything else. I don’t know how to fix that. If you live with a lot of stress and that’s preventing you from writing anything, you’ll have to take a look at your own life and figure things out. There are some things I’ve been stressed with–my health for one that has only now turned around with working with my doctor for the past seven months. While I wasn’t feeling well, I took refuge in my stories and characters and used my writing time to think about something else other than my next doctor’s appointment. Not everyone can do that, and I completely get it. Not everyone can write after a day at a crappy job (I’m lucky I like mine), not everyone can write when they have sick children. Some stressors can’t be fixed, and you may have no choice but to put writing away for a little while and take a break. It could do your mental health good not to worry about the next book.
You’re tired. I have an old cat who cries a lot at night. There’s not much we can do for him. He’s on thyroid medication. Sometimes when he’s hungry he doesn’t like the food we give him and he’ll walk away still hungry and that makes him cry (and trust me, I’ve tried a lot of brands and flavors to no avail). (He reminds me of me when I was suffering from morning sickness–I was hungry but nothing sounded good.) He’s just old and our vet is reluctant to medicate him, so he wanders around the apartment at night and cries. I love the old coot, but he doesn’t make getting rest easy. I take naps when I can, go to bed early if my schedule allows it, and generally I work around him because one day he’s going to be too old to keep going and our vet will recommend putting him down. Sometimes getting enough sleep means being responsible and going to bed at a decent hour, and not staying up late reading or watching TV. I’m not your mom (I have two kids and don’t need any more) so you’ll make the choices you make, and if your writing suffers, you’ll have no one to blame but yourself. I can’t write when I’m tired. I don’t believe in the old adage “bad words are better than no words.” Not to me they aren’t, and if I’m tired I won’t bother to try and write.
You haven’t spent enough time with your novel in your head.
If you sit down and have no idea what to write, you haven’t spent enough time with your characters. There are plenty of memes out there that say writing is so much more than putting words down on paper, and this is true for me. I’m thinking about my book all the time. Plot points, character arcs, running dialogue like I’m an actress in a play. I spend more time with my characters inside my head than I do writing, but that makes writing much easier. In these days of social media, we are bombarded by information. There are podcasts to listen to, webinars to participate in, YouTube videos to watch, and Clubhouse rooms to listen in on. There is so much out there that takes up brain space that sometimes if you don’t give yourself time to THINK, you won’t be able to spend the time you need with your book. I don’t think we give enough emphasis to the thinking part of writing–time to unplug and daydream is more important than we like to believe. That’s why so many people have great ideas in the shower, or while they’re driving. It’s only when they are forced to take a moment to themselves that their brains are able to think about something else. This is really hard for me as I have a big fear of missing out. I’m always worried I’m going to miss the next big thing in marketing if I don’t listen to that webinar, or sit on on that room, or sign up for that class, but when it comes right down to it, there’s no reason to know any information about anything if you don’t have a book written. I take baths without a book, I go outside and sit without my phone. I snuggle my cats and doze and daydream about my book. Turn your brain off and see what happens.
You don’t like what you’re writing. Maybe you’ve been working on it for too long, or you’ve written yourself into a corner and you have no idea of how to fix it. Maybe this was supposed to be a standalone book and you decided to turn it into a series and now you regret it. There could be any number of things that make you loath to sit down and work on your work in progress. I had a friend who started something new whenever her current project got too hard, or she wrote herself into a corner, or she had no idea where the plot was going and decided it would be easier to start something new than figure out the book she was working on. That resulted in a lot of unfinished novels, burn out, and she hasn’t published anything in five years. If your characters aren’t playing nice, or you’ve written yourself in corner, or your character said something that changed everything, well, chin up because writing can be hard. I had a great idea for the book I’m working on now, but that required me rewriting a sex scene toward the beginning of the book. I know it will make the book a lot better, but I’m going to have to force myself to sit down rewrite it, and make it fit with the rest of what I have. If you’re hating writing your current project think about why, and be honest. If you’re just avoiding the real work of writing, then push through it. If you’re tired because you’ve been working on it for a long time, write something else and mix it up for a while. If you’re bored because you’ve lost interest, give yourself permission to write something different. No one should hate what they’re working on. On the other hand, you’re a professional and you have to show up and do the work.
I think the overall consensus is there is no such thing as writer’s block–only circumstances and situations that make it harder for us to write. Some of these we can control through better choices, some we can’t and we have to push through if we can. A change of mindset can help. If you’re a hobbiest and you don’t mind if you go days, weeks, or months without writing, then that’s great! If you’re trying to turn your writing into a day job so you can make a living doing what you enjoy, there isn’t going to be a lot of room for “writer’s block.” We’re all in different places in our writing careers with different goals. Whatever your plans are for your writing, I wish you the best!
And if you’re tired, a nap. I know I love mine.
Until next time!